Tory rural broadband promise under threat: Openreach talks close to collapse

Oliver Gill
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Rural broadband roll-out could be delayed by up to three years (Source: Openreach)

A Tory pledge to deliver better broadband to 1.4m rural homes is under threat of being delayed by years.

Talks between Openreach and the government to agree on a £600m investment by the BT infrastructure arm are close to collapse, according to reports by the Sunday Telegraph.

If an agreement with Openreach over its voluntary investment cannot be reached, the government may instead have to force through rules that give rural customers the right to demand an upgrade in service. It is likely this will mean a significant delay in delivering better broadband to the five per cent of UK homes that do not receive a 10 megabits per second connection.

The Conservatives promised such broadband speeds would be delivered to all UK households by 2020 in its manifesto.

Read more: Openreach says it will take until 2021 to remove two letters

A spokesperson for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) insisted “no decision has been taken”.

We are still considering whether BT's offer or a regulatory approach works better for homes and businesses.

An Openreach spokesperson said the firm did not want to see further delays to the rural upgrade, adding: “This is an opportunity for the sector to unite.

“We believe BT’s plan would be faster and more efficient than a statutory Universal Service Obligation, because we’d build the network proactively, rather than waiting for individual customers to place orders.

"We don’t want people in not-spots to wait longer for decent broadband and this is an opportunity for the industry to unite behind a project that would help to close the digital divide, boost social cohesion and increase productivity across Britain.”

Read more: BT Openreach faces "material reductions" from Ofcom plans

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